Quality vs. quantity on Twitter: In defense of a smaller community


After reading Beth Schillaci’s post this morning on the significance of followers, likers and subscribers, I was reminded of a discussion I had last week. I was consulting with a team on setting up a Twitter account for their program, and someone asked me, “How many followers should we aim for?” This is not a unique question — I hear it all the time. As a numbers girl, I LOVE to be able to provide concrete numbers that indicate success, and I wish I could say that “followers” is a solid measure of success, but it’s not. Here’s why.

Let’s break this down a bit. Grab a pen and paper (or a blank document), and answer these questions:

In one sentence, what is the goal of your Twitter account? (e.g., I want to drive more traffic to our application form; I want to generate more interaction between our Dean of Students and the freshman class; I want to react to comments and answer questions from the campus community)

Based on this goal, who is your target audience? (prospective students in their junior and senior year of high school; the class of 2014; undergrads and grad students, faculty, staff and influential neighbors)

What are they most interested in hearing about? (admissions guidelines and SAT test prep; summer jobs for college students; free events around campus and the surrounding city)

Now tape that to your monitor. Be mindful of your end goal at all times. Based on these criteria, you can build a solid, meaningful presence on Twitter. Don’t worry — if you don’t know the immediate answer to question #3, go back to #2 and do your research. Follow 50 (or 20 or 100) people you’ve identified in your target audience and listen to them for a week. Talk with them; retweet what is interesting or relevant to you and your goal.

The number of followers you accumulate is nowhere to be found in these steps. As Beth points out, “I would much rather have 10 people come in my store and buy something than 100 window shoppers”.

If you want me to build your followers to 1,000 by the end of this week, I can certainly tell you how to do that, as can many other websites and “social media gurus” (for a price). Will it give you a more engaged community? Probably not. Will it bring you back to your goal and ultimately help you succeed? Probably not. Your goal should be to find your most rabid, loyal fans and get them excited about what you’re up to.

See also:

(Image courtesy losgofres on Flickr)


Eric Stoller posted on June 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm

This reminds me of a post that I wrote a while back for student affairs practitioners who want to use Twitter. It’s not about followers if you don’t have solid outcomes…

Jenny Mackintosh posted on June 3, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Hi Eric,

Thank you for sharing this post — I agree with you that the outcomes need to be at the forefront of the discussion, with follower counts taking a back seat, if being mentioned at all (with the exception, perhaps, of audience growth over time).

– Jenny

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